When you’re a bruxer, you’re part of an unofficial club shared by millions of other teeth-grinding, jaw-clenching people. It’s not a group anyone wants to join, but sleep bruxism rates have gone up significantly since the pandemic with no signs of slowing down.
Teeth grinding might not sound like that big of a deal, but when your occlusal surfaces — those parts of the teeth we use for chewing — continually rub against each other, the damage can become severe. However, using an occlusal guard is an efficient and easy way to prevent this harm from occurring.
Occlusal guards, better known as night guards, are oral appliances that cover the upper or lower teeth to protect the enamel from constant grinding. They don’t stop the actions, but they can save your teeth from bruxism. How do occlusal guards work? Read on to learn all about them!
How Bruxism Impacts Your Teeth
Left untreated, bruxism will wreak havoc on your oral health. The ongoing clenching and grinding wear away at your enamel, which eventually makes the deeper layers of your teeth visible.
These layers, like dentin, are connected to the nerves and pulp of the tooth, and when they’re exposed, they are highly sensitive to temperature changes and air. You’ll notice that eating your favorite cold foods won’t be enjoyable anymore because it will be painful!
Sensitive teeth and gums frequently lead to tooth decay. But you might also grind hard enough to flatten your teeth or cause chips and breaks. Eventually, the damage caused by grinding can be severe enough to lock your jaw and limit your mouth’s range of motion.
How Night Guards Help With Symptom Reduction
Clenching and grinding damage the enamel of your teeth, but the harm from bruxism doesn’t stop there.
Clenching causes your jaw muscles to tighten for extended periods. When the muscles have too much tension, the tissues around them become strained, as well. Eventually, the bruxing behaviors can impact your skeletal and muscular system as far into your body as your lower back.
A night guard stops your teeth from getting the connection they need to grind, which minimizes the effect of the actions on your jaw muscles. The effect is a noticeably quick relief of bruxing symptoms like:
- Jaw pain
- Sensitive teeth and gums
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Damaged enamel and wear and tear
The night guards can’t fix the damage that’s already done, but they will stop it from getting worse.
How to Find the Right Night Guard
Occlusal guards come in many shapes, sizes, and materials. Each of these serves its own special purpose. For instance, a sports mouth guard is used to prevent damage to the facial area during contact activity. Splints are often prescribed for medical problems like TMJ disorders and obstructive sleep apnea.
Using the right guard for the size and shape of your mouth matters, too. You can buy occlusal guards over the counter. These are one-size-fits-most or boil-and-bite versions.
While these kinds have the advantage of being cheap, they’re not well-designed, and they won’t cover all the nooks and crannies of your unique smile.
Because of those downfalls, OTC and mail-order boil-and-bite night guards can cause your teeth to shift or be too uncomfortable to wear. If you have moderate to severe bruxism, you’ll likely bite right through the guard.
Instead, shop for a high-quality professional guard that is custom-made to your teeth’s specifications. Your dentist can do this for you, or you can order through companies with impressive reputations. Learn more about online professional night guards in this article by JS Dental Lab.
Night Guard Styles
Custom night guards come in three typical styles: soft, hard, and hybrid. Soft guards are ideal for mild bruxism symptoms and people who are very sensitive and may not be able to sleep without a comfortable oral appliance.
Hard guards aren’t as pleasant to wear as the other designs, but they’re great for severe bruxers who don’t want to bite through their investment. And, as the name implies, hybrid designs are a mix of hard and soft, making them ideal for moderate bruxers who also want a relaxed fit.
When you’re choosing the fit of your occlusal guard, consider how much protection you want your teeth to have from your clenching and grinding and how durable you’d like your night guard to be.
Protecting your teeth from the damage of sleep bruxism should be a priority. Without something between your top and bottom enamel, those grinding motions can cause irreparable harm. An occlusal guard won’t stop the bruxing, but it will be your first line of defense against future injury to your teeth.